Frozen Middle ManagementThe Frozen Middle. It sounds like a great title for a television series or mystery novel, doesn’t it? In reality, the term describes those in middle management who are tasked with carrying out strategies and direction from upper-level management, but aren’t actually involved in the creation of those initiatives from the company. 

As a result, there can be big misunderstandings and confusion, which makes middle managers less effective at carrying out the goals of the executives. In addition, middle managers are sometimes resistant to change. And there you have it – the frozen middle. 

Because the Vida Aventura team works with so many company leaders and managers who are grappling with similar situations, I can attest to the negative impact this has on the bottom line.


The Frozen Middle: How It Happens

Here’s a very simplified – and maybe a little dramatic – example of how the middle freezes:


        • “Let’s create an ambitious initiative, designed to grow our business!”
        •  “Great results! Hey, managers, we’re counting on you to execute these new strategies.”


        • “Ummm … okay. So, it’d be great to get some support, insights and feedback in order to do this.”
        • “Hello, is anyone there? Why are we doing this? We don’t fully understand the goals and how to execute your directions.”  

Ambitious Initiative:

        • “Yeah, I’m just gonna sit here and clog up the process. There will be no change here, and oh by the way, managers? It’s your fault.”

The Impact on Middle Managers

When middle managers get stuck in between the layers of upper-level management and progress, it can leave them feeling stuck, frustrated, resistant, ineffective and even disregarded. Is this happening at your organization? 

Your middle managers might be in the freezer zone if they feel like:

        • Their voices aren’t being heard.
        • They don’t feel like they’ve made significant contributions to long-term company success. 
        • There is a lack of  support and clarity with implementing directives.
        • Their only feedback is focused on underperformance. 
        • They don’t understand the reason behind the change.

How Leaders Can Defrost The Middle

Ideally, upper-level managers will take the lead to identify and then solve the problems associated with a frozen middle. However, middle managers play a crucial role in initiating change and providing upward feedback. Here are some steps for a successful defrost.

 1. Pinpoint Communication Breakdowns. Upper-level managers should ask middle managers and direct reports about company or project goals. Do they understand them, and if not, why? How can the lines of communication be improved? The answers will help identify where misunderstandings come into play. 

 2. Create Alignment. The key words here are engage and communicate. Managers at all levels need to invest in the mission and culture of the company. When employees are engaged, goals can be communicated more effectively, and middle managers can better understand the purpose and meaning behind upper-level management initiatives. In addition, promote team building for an even deeper level of alignment and unity.  

 3. Give Goal-Specific & Upward Feedback. If managers are confused or do not understand the goals of an initiative, they need to speak with their executive supervisor and gain clarity. Additionally, upward feedback should be encouraged, so as to clear up misunderstandings before they affect productivity.

 4. Recognize Employees. Acknowledge middle manager and team efforts, listen to feedback, acknowledge contributions and celebrate successes.


Final Thoughts

So many of the challenges that managers, leaders and teams face can be addressed and resolved through effective leadership, professional development, strong communication skills and cohesive teams. If you identify with this topic, or if you’d like to find out how the Vida Aventura team can support your personal or corporate goals, please contact us today. We’re here to help.


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Feature Image Credit: Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash



Most leaders struggle with disengagement, dysfunction, and non-productive behaviors with their teams. We deliver training that develops leaders and engages teams to increase your company results.